The 7 Sports Team is counting down the 10 best high school football programs in the area during 7 Sports Director Pete Yanity’s 30 seasons covering high school football on Channel 7. State titles, overall wins, and dominant eras were taken into account when compiling the list of Pete’s Top 10.
State Titles: 2016, 2019
State Runner-Ups: 2007, 2017
Playoff Appearances: 22
*The Panthers won 20 straight games from game 10 of the 2016 season until the late stages of 2018.
*They enter the 2020 season having won 47 of their past 49 games.
*Former head coach Mark Hodge left following this past season to become head coach at Spartanburg and was replaced in March by Mauldin’s Harry Cabaniss.
The Chapman Panthers put together a dominant run in the late 2010s. Over the last four seasons they’ve won 53 games resulting in two state championships and three appearances in the 3A state title game.
Randy Burns was the Panthers head coach from 1990-2005, and the program experienced moderate success during his tenure. While the team reached the upper state semi-finals five times, and played for the upper state final once during that span, Chapman couldn’t seem to get over the hump.
Still, they were consistent playoff contenders, reaching the postseason in all but three years under Burns. Those three years, however, came in succession from 2003-2005.
Burns stepped down in January of ‘05 after 15 seasons, but remained with the school as athletic director. That led to the hiring of Chapman’s next head coach: Kevin Farmer.
Farmer came to the Panthers having been a successful offensive coordinator at Union, his alma mater. With Farmer running the offense, Union secured two state titles, providing a proof of concept Chapman was looking for in the hire.
They were rewarded just one year later.
After a 5-6 campaign in 2006, the Panthers took full form in 2007. After finishing the season 7-3, Chapman kicked it into another gear in the postseason, outscoring each opponent by double
digits on their way to play for the state championship for the first time in program history.
The Panthers battled Cheraw in the 2007 2A state championship game, but fell to the defending champs, 58-14. A tough loss, especially after the team’s considerable uptick in production over one season. Nonetheless, it appeared the arrow was pointing up in Inman.
The following season, however, yielded an even more drastic change than the one from 2006 to 2007. After a title game appearance, and a 12-win season, Chapman went 1-9 in 2008 after being reclassified to 3A. And although they didn’t fall that far in the subsequent years, the Panthers managed just 7 total wins over the next three seasons under Farmer.
Kevin Farmer resigned as head coach of the Panthers in January, 2012.
The Mark Hodge Era (2012-2019)
In 2012 Chapman announced the hiring of its new head coach, Mark Hodge, who came to Inman after leading Carolina High School from 2009-2011. Hodge entered the program with plenty of Upstate appeal as a Broome and USC Upstate grad. It was home. And after serving as defensive coordinator for Spartanburg HS before making the jump to guide Carolina, many felt this was the right fit for Hodge at the right time.
“When we came in I knew that at some point in time, if we were here long enough, that we were going to have the kids to be able to do it [win a title],” said Hodge.
In Hodge’s first year with the team, Chapman failed to reach the postseason, extending its playoff drought to five years. But in 2013 they set the foundation for what became a dominant run.
In 2013 Chapman finished the regular season 6-4, and rattled off an impressive playoff stretch, beating Chapin, Wren, and Belton Honea Path convincingly in the first three rounds. Senior receiver and defensive back, and future Gamecock and current NFL wide receiver, Deebo Samuel, was key in Chapman’s run as the Panthers punched their ticket to the semifinals, where they matched up with powerhouse Daniel. Chapman went toe-to-toe with the Lions, but Daniel prevailed 29-27. Despite the loss, a trip to the upper state final for the first time since 1992 was a significant step forward for the program as they were back on the map as a serious contender.
The Panthers finished just 4-7 in 2014, including a first round exit from the postseason. In 2015 they rebounded with a nine-win season, falling in round two of the upper state playoffs, but it was an important year for the team’s growth.
“We started really coming together more,” said Hodge. “Through that season we really learned
how to overcome some adversities.”
In 2016, they overcame the ultimate obstacle.
The Panthers brought a lot of momentum into the postseason after a 7-3 regular season finish, but they did so without a region title. That belonged to Newberry, which beat Chapman, 28-27, in week nine to capture the region championship. But the Panthers had their sights set on a bigger prize.
“Probably the funniest thing that I can remember [Coach Hodge] saying was, ‘they can shine our rings with their region title t-shirt,” said 2016 junior quarterback Colton Bailey. “So that really fired us up to go on that six game run to finish it out and win state.”
Chapman began the postseason with a shootout against Camden, winning the game 77-66. They followed that up with a 41-18 rout over Seneca, and then a close 27-22 win over Powdersville in round three. The Panthers got revenge against Newberry in the upper state final, winning 34-27, as Bailey found Richard Tucker on an 85-yard connection in the closing minutes and a Panthers team reached the state championship game for the first time since 2007.
“That was a huge step there,” said Hodge. “Because we had been there [upper state final] before, but we didn’t finish it.”
Chapman faced its biggest challenge, perhaps in program history, when taking on Dillon in the 2016 Class 3A State Championship. The Wildcats had just secured four-straight state titles in Class 2A/Division 1 play. And were staring down five in a row after moving up a class.
It appeared that was going to be the case as the game entered the fourth quarter at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.
Dillon led the Panthers 27-24 at the start of the final period, but Chapman saved its best for last.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Chapman Punter Carlos Montalvo-Corrales pinned the Wildcats at their own one yard line. Moments later, the Panthers’ Zach Johnson tackled Dillon’s Jalen Williams in the end zone for a safety, bringing them within a single point, 27-26.
On the ensuing possession, the Panthers scored thanks to Montalvo-Corrales once again. Only this time it was a 43-yard field goal from the kicker that put Chapman in front 29-27.
The Panther defense held Dillon the rest of the way, preventing another score, collecting the program’s first ever state championship. Not only had the Panthers ended an historic run by a storied program, they had forged their own path as a dominant team in 3A.
“I was proud of the things that they did during the ballgame,” sad Hodge.
“Saying ‘the first’ is always a good feeling,” running back D.J. Twitty, who amassed over 200 yards rushing in the title game, reflected. “I won the first state championship. That’s always a good feeling to tell people, to have the ring on.”
And Hodge’s words from several years prior came to fruition for the junior class.
“I remember when I was in middle school, when we were all in middle school, coach Hodge said this group will win us a state championship,” said Bailey. “And we kind of bought in to what he said and what he thought…we just bonded together, followed coach Hodge, and that’s when we really believed we could win one.”
2017 State Runner-Up
They returned to the title game the following season after going a perfect 14-0 through the upper state final. They battled Dillon in a rematch of the 2016 title game. And although they scored 21 unanswered points to tie the game at the break, Bailey suffered an injury that took him out for the second half.
“Honestly for a week or two afterwards I was devastated,” said Bailey, a 2017 Mr. Football finalist. “We had them on the ropes, and then I come back and can’t throw…I just feel like our morale fell after that.”
The Wildcats got their revenge as Dillon reclaimed its status at the top of 3A high school football, beating Chapman 55-27. The Panthers, though, weren’t going anywhere. The 2018 team won its first 12 games with several new starters, including junior quarterback Mikele Colasurdo, on to be upset by a Union County squad it had beaten to start the season, 27-26, on a rainy night in Inman.
“The trouble with that season was we never lost (before that game),” Hodge said. “It was kind of one of those, like, ‘I’ve been tryin’ to tell ya.’ The good thing about that loss was all those kids were back. So they had to eat that one. They had to own it. They had to taste it that whole year.“
And they made the most of it.
Chapman reached new heights in 2019, cruising past the competition to a 10-0 regular season
record with their closest margin of victory being 14 points, and scoring between 49 and 80 points in each of the contests.
“We called it our redemption tour,” Hodge said.
Behind their now senior quarterback, Colasurdo lead a Chapman attack that scored a total of 847 points through 15 games.
And the defense was a force to be reckoned with as well. The Panthers recorded three shutouts, and allowed just one score in two other contests all year.
In four postseason games, they outscored their opponents 218 to 48.
They needed just one more win to complete the undefeated season, with the state hardware on the line. It’s only fitting it was against Dillon for the third time in four years.
“I think the pressure came from within more than anywhere else,” said Colasurdo. “We were really, really dialed in. I remember we had a great week of practice.”
Chapman jumped out to an early lead in the title game, as Gabe Watson picked-up a Wildcats fumble and returned it for a touchdown to open the scoring. That set the tone for a game in which the Panthers allowed just 193 yards of total offense.
In the second quarter Colasurdo found Ben Rollins on a 38-yard touchdown, improving the Chapman lead to 27-7 at the half.
After filling in for the injured Bailey in the second half of the 2017 title game as a sophomore, Colasurdo made his mark in the 2019 championship. The senior, and Georgia State commit, threw for 219 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 41 yards and another score.
“I just wanted him to have a redemptive opportunity,” said Hodge.
“To think about my growth since  as a person and a player, we’re in the same spot just two very different emotions,” said Colasurdo. “I think we were just happy to get that opportunity and to finish it off.”
Chapman defeated Dillon, 44-14, becoming state champions for the second time in four years. The Panthers showcased their multifaceted offense in the game, tallying over 200 yards rushing and passing.
Colasurdo shared the 7 Sports Star Of The Year and was named the South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year, Chapman’s first. He threw for 3,074 yards and 37 touchdowns, adding 434 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns in 15 games in 2019.
“It was such a special thing we had going on here,” said Colasurdo.”It’s something I know I’ll always cherish.”
After finishing the undefeated season, Chapman currently holds the state’s longest active winning streak, and they’ve won 47 of their last 49 games.
Hodge, after securing two titles and a 53-5 run over a four-year span, announced his departure from Chapman in early 2020 and replaced Chris Miller, who he played for at Broome, as the head football coach at Spartanburg High School. Mauldin’s Harry Cabaniss was hired in March to now lead the Panther program.
“I feel like in the next four years they (Chapman) have a chance to win another state championship,” said Hodge.
Few teams have had as dominant of a run over a four-year period as the Chapman Panthers. 53 wins, two state titles, and an undefeated campaign amounts to a dominant run that has yet to reach its end. But it’s more than just the four-year run.
Since 1990, Chapman has made the playoffs 22 times, with ten appearances in the quarterfinals, and four appearances in the upper state final.
Despite moving up in class in the late 2000s, the Panthers added their first two state championships roughly a decade later as part of a dominant stretch, making them one of Pete’s Top 10 area high school football programs over the past 30 years.
Pete’s Top 10:
Chapman Football record since 1990 (Courtesy of: SC Football History & MaxPreps)